Monday, September 8, 2008


Skykomish, WA

Dear all-

Just a quick note to let you know that Reason and I are indeed alive and well. We have weathered much rain and a little snow now that we are in the Pacific Northwest, but are keeping warm and learning to keep dry. We were really spoiled with the shelters on the AT. A roof located every eight or ten miles makes a big difference in wet weather.

We are currently in Skykomish, WA, less than 200 trail miles south of Canada! We've been moving quickly because 1) it is too cold to stop in the rain to rest, and 2) we've wanted to take advantage of every ounce of sunshine when the weather is good. Despite the sun today, we've been relaxing in Andrea and Jerry Dinsmore's wonderful hiker loft and yard by the river just outside of this tiny historic railroad town.

Oregon and Washington are green and beautiful (read: mossy, wet and cold). After a hot and dry start to Oregon, we completed the last 30 miles into the Columbia River gorge in pouring all-day rain -- an apt welcome to Washington where it has rained on us nearly every day! The days are getting shorter and the nights much colder. We're near the end and trying to savor every last minute. We've rarely had to leave the trail in these last two states to resupply, depending instead on nearby resorts which have camp stores or which accept packages that we've mailed ahead. This contributed to a wonderful pace in Oregon. The easy terrain allowed us to hike our first 30 mile days, and staying in the woods kept us from the clamor of civilization. Due to our good physical condition, our mileage has stayed high through central Washington where the Cascades have become jagged with deep canyons. We budgeted 20 mile days for the entire state, but so far we have kept to about a 25 mile per day pace.

We hear the trail becomes more difficult from Skykomish forward, though. This next 100 mile stretch features a section that is annually flooded and prone to avalanches and therefore in very poor repair. We'll encounter the most difficult ford on the PCT at the wide Suiattle River. Luckily, the weather has been dry for the past few days so the flow should not be swollen. Complicating matters further is the (at last count!) 408 old growth blow-downs that we'll have to pick our way across. A blow-down is a tree that has fallen and, in the context of hiking, is blocking the trail. This section is so repeatedly weather-beaten that the assigned ranger district is allegedly loath to maintain it. Normally, a crew of rangers, volunteers and paid conservation corps will cut away trees and brush that block the trail. However, the area with the 408 blow-downs is a designated wilderness area, meaning that mechanized equipment - including chainsaws- cannot be used. Removal of the trees in this wilderness area would have to be done by ax and manual saw. The old growth trees in question are supposedly enormous, and each tree takes down others when it falls, complicating the removal process.

But Reason and I think this will be a fun challenge. We expect to "hike" about a mile an hour through a particularly tangled seven mile section of blow-downs. We'll be climbing up, over, around, under and through trees that have been described as many feet in diameter and hundreds of feet long. We think it will be good training for the infamously brutal Continental Divide Trail!

Though Reason says he is ready for some R'n'R and possibly a week of yoga, I just want to keep going. I feel great and have to stop myself from drooling when I hear others planning their bicycling routes home from Seattle. I spent much of last night and part of today reading the latest Continental Divide Trail planner.

Trail celebrity Eric D is here at the Dinsmores' helping keep order. He finished the trail in mid-August, having passed us long ago just outside Big Bear City in SoCal. We've been speculating about just what is in his tiny backpack ever since, and I feel a bit shy in the presence of such a hiking legend. This is at least Eric D's sixth PCT hike, some of which were yo-yo's (meaning that he hiked from Mexico to Canada, then turned around and hiked back to Mexico in one season). I think he plows snow (white gold) in New Hampshire in the winter. I think I could do that if it meant I could keep hiking...

So you can see, trail fever is never really satisfied. Thru-hikers learn to do without all the material junk in life and find seasonal work to keep their habit going. I've only learned about more trails on this hike, so I'm not any closer to completing anything, really. There is just so much of the world to see. As Yogi's CDT planner puts it, "one trail or three, but not two." I want that Triple Crown plaque!

And by the way, there are actually eight National Scenic Trails...


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